Short Story – The Prince and the Storyteller

This story, along with another one, was written back at the end of January and submitted to a contest.  I wanted to wait to post it until I found out the results of the contest.  (Neither won, but such is life).

This story went through several iterations before it settled upon this version.  The idea of not being able to sleep due to bad visions is something that’s happened to me before.  The characters of Dantes and the Prince are characters I’ve had for a while and I just wanted to do something with them, so this happened.

Please enjoy.

After everything, I found it difficult to get to sleep. I used to complain about nightmares, but now I had found something far worse than a simple nightmare that kept me from my sleep. All that I went through left me with scarring images in my head that haunted me when the night came around.

I was mostly fine during the day, but once the sun fell from the sky, I had to keep all the lights in the house on and stay awake without even a thought of sleep. When my eyes began to drift shut, especially in a dark room, those images would flash through my mind and leave me in such a devastated state that I could hardly move or breathe.

No, after something like that, I would welcome nightmares. At least then I’d know I had actually gotten to sleep.

On one such night, as I searched for something to occupy my mind from the paranoia and dread that came from the thought of sleep, I decided to go out onto the balcony porch and stargaze. I hugged my jacket tighter around me to stave off the chill air, fixing my attention squarely on the sky. Although I loved the sight of stars so dearly, rarely was I able to get a good view of them here. It was nothing but a black sky with the occasional white dots here and there. A disappointment to say the least.

I felt my eyelids growing heavy and my mind beginning to drift, but just as my eyes fell shut, a haunting visage appeared before me and I sat up with a start. Fear stabbed at my heart and my breath came out in short bursts. Even this wasn’t helping me.

You look troubled,” a quiet voice said from behind me. I turned my head an inch to look over my shoulder and saw a man standing in the corner of the balcony. Even in the dimness of the night, I could see a friendly smile on his face. “I don’t mean to intrude, but may I stargaze with you? It’s more satisfying when you’re not alone.”

I stared at him for a long moment, then nodded my head. Although I had no idea who he was, or how he even got here, I had to admit I felt better about being here with someone rather than being all alone in the dark with my own betraying thoughts.

The man sat down beside me and fixed his attention on the sky. I, however, couldn’t help but stare at him. He was perhaps the most interesting man I had ever seen, now that I was looking at him up close. Not the type of person who would catch your eye at a first glance, but more like the type of person who seems to become more interesting the longer you look at them.

The corner of his mouth quirked into a somewhat cocky smile, and he turned to look at me. “Yes, what is it? Something bothering you?”

His eyes captivated me, and for a moment I was unable to move or answer him. They were the most beautiful and striking eyes I had ever seen before, looking like purple galaxies flecked with glittering stars. After a moment of gazing into them, I shook my head and tore away from him.

Who are you?” I asked in a quiet voice. “Are you… human?”

Somewhat,” he said, chuckling a little. “A little of something else too, I suppose. I came here because I knew you were having trouble getting to sleep. Isn’t that right?”

I blinked at him, wondering exactly who he was. “Yes, that’s right.”

Well, I can help you get to sleep, if you want me to. I think all you need is a good bedtime story.”

I frowned, narrowing my eyes at him. “How exactly is a bedtime story going to help?”

It will get your mind off those things that are bothering you so much,” he said, laying a finger on my forehead. “Don’t doubt the power of a good story before bed.”

I fidgeted a little then sighed and turned my face down. I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually had a proper sleep, and at this point I was desperate for anything that could work. “Alright, I guess it wouldn’t hurt.”

The man smiled at me and held his hand out. “Very good. Do as I say, as this won’t be a traditional bedtime story.”

I cautiously took his hand, not entirely sure where he was going with this. “What do you mean it won’t be traditional?”

You’ll have to be dreaming before you can get the story,” he said, a warm, reassuring smile on his face. “So you should get comfortable before I begin telling it.”

I still had no idea what he was talking about, but at this point I didn’t see that I had much other choice. I sighed and settled down closer to him, and he pulled the black cloak he was wearing close around me. I saw that the inside of the cloak had a purple galaxy print on it that was just as mesmerizing as his eyes.

Once I had settled down and was leaning comfortably against him, he gave my shoulder a little pat and smiled at me. “Now, just listen to my voice and close your eyes. You’ll be carried into the dream, and when the story is over you’ll be sleeping peacefully.”

If you say so,” I murmured, resting my head against his shoulders and letting my eyes slowly drift shut. I heard his voice speaking to me, though I wasn’t quite aware of what he was saying. Blackness took hold of me, and suddenly all of reality changed around me. I became a formless observer to what was happening.

This is the story of the Prince of Timor.”

~*~

In the realm of Timor ruled a king and his son. The Prince was far fairer a ruler than his father was, but that wasn’t saying much. The Prince was a man with dark tastes and sought out things to keep him occupied, which usually came at the expense of someone else. He saw most humans as nothing more than play things, though there were always exceptions if he found someone to be especially remarkable.

He favored going after young girls, especially those with troubled minds. He often would prey on their troubles, presenting himself as a gentleman, finding out all he could of them, and then turning it against them, just to see what would happen. Once he had finished with them, he would leave them be without so much as another thought to them ever again.

There was a time, though, that a girl he was playing with turned against him. She saw through his trickery and decided to fight back, using his own tactics against him. She tried to find out all she could about him in an attempt to use that to hurt him. But learning about the Prince was a difficult thing to do, for he rarely spoke in depth about himself.

The girl knew, however, that he wouldn’t leave her alone until he had sufficiently drained every ounce of entertainment he could get out of her, so as long as she didn’t give into him, she could continue in her own scheme to take him down. Little by little she wormed more information out of him, grasping at even the smallest scraps she could get.

As she thought long and hard about everything she had gleaned about him, she at last decided that she had what she needed to confront him. When next she saw the Prince, he continued to toy with her, speaking in smooth, sweet words to charm her into falling for him, but she refused to take it.

And what of you?” she shot back at him. “You think you can play with peoples’ lives just because you’re bored? Just because you are a prince? Having power does not make one better than another, and you should be well aware of this fact. Your father did the same thing to you that you have done to others, did he not?”

The Prince was dumbstruck for a moment. He had never told her anything of the like before, so how did she know? Was she so perceptive that she could read such a thing about him through his simple words and actions?

I know what your real problem is,” she said. “You’ve never once felt the love of another. Certainly not from your father. You pretend to love all of these girls, but you could never truly show them love because you do not know what it looks like, what it feels like to be loved.”

What matter is it to you?” the Prince said, his face stony, but anger evident in his voice. “If you seem to know so much, clearly you know I’m not going to keep you around once I’ve finished with you.”

No, you aren’t,” she said, giving him a defiant glare. “But it’s my business because you’re simply going to keep doing this to others once you have finished with me. Think back to your father. Whatever it is he did to you, I’m sure you hated it. Why then would you make others suffer a similar fate?”

But the Prince could not answer this, and for the first time he could ever remember, he was shocked into silence. He let the girl go without finishing his awful game, considering her words carefully. Of one thing he was absolutely sure: he never had felt what it was truly like to be loved. However, he was not sure he ever could feel it, or show it to others, for that matter.

It was a long time after that before he even thought of going after a new girl to toy with. The Prince locked himself away within his home, trying to decide what he should do to better himself, and perhaps overcome the grip his father had on him.

~*~

I woke in my own bed the next morning, and realized that I had actually slept throughout the night. I had dreamt that story of the Prince of Timor, though it wasn’t especially vivid as far as visual details. I only remembered the story, with outlines of the Prince sketched through my memory.

I went back out to stargaze again that night, still paranoid by images that may haunt me should I try to sleep, knowing the paranoia alone would cause it to happen. But I also secretly hoped to see that man again, to have him tell me another story.

And, as if summoned by my thoughts, he sat down beside me, a warm smile on his face, his eyes still glittering as brightly as the stars. “Did you have a good sleep last night?”

I think so,” I told him. “But, do you think you could tell me another story to help me sleep again tonight? I liked that one from last night, and I want to know more about the Prince. Did he change his ways? Did he find someone who could love him? Or did he overthrow his father like he wished to do?”

Hmm…” The man sat back and gazed at the sky, continuing to smile. “I suppose I could tell you another. It may not answer all your questions, but if you’d like I can continue to return each night with new stories for you. Would you like that?”

Yes, yes I would. Oh, I never got your name.”

Ah, apologies. My name is Dantes Illuzia.” He gave a slight bow of his head. “Now, would you like to hear the story of the Prince’s shadow, or his cat?”

I thought about this for a moment, considering what sort of stories each of them could be, then I said, “I want to hear about his cat.”

Dantes chuckled a little and held his arm out to me. “I thought you might. Come, get comfortable.”

I settled down beside him as he wrapped his cloak around me, then I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of his voice, and I once more began to drift off into a dream state.

This is the story of the Prince and the Cat.”

~*~

Now, the King of Timor had a beloved pet, a large black panther. It had striking green eyes and occasionally, when it felt like showing them, intricate patterns in its fur that glowed with green energy. This cat was known as the Nightmare Emissary, and it carried out any wishes the King asked of it.

The Prince could make requests of the cat as well, but it would only follow them when it felt like it, unlike when the King gave it orders. Even then on occasion it merely saw the King’s orders as nothing but suggestions.

The Nightmare Emissary most often went out on its own, hunting and skulking about the domain, or just lying around when it had nothing better to do. But when the Emissary found the Prince in a state of distress, it started following him out of curiosity.

The Prince was not acting like himself. He sat around sulking, or paced down the hallways, looking lost with nothing to do. This piqued the cat’s interest, so one day it approached the Prince and asked what was the matter.

The Prince told the cat of the last woman he had been playing with, and the words she had said to him which put him in such a flustered state. The cat began to laugh at this.

You, the great Prince of Timor? Why should you heed the words of anyone, especially someone you saw as a plaything?”

I shouldn’t,” the Prince shot back in a tone of anger. “But I cannot stop thinking about what she said, and it is driving me to madness.”

I see.” The cat’s tail swished back and forth through a mix of irritation and contemplation. “Then what is it that you believe you desire at this moment, my Prince?”

I am unsure,” the Prince responded with a slight sigh. “That’s the problem. I believe what I desire most is something unobtainable, or at the very least something difficult to obtain.”

And when has that ever stopped you before?” the cat said, a challenging tone to its voice. “If you want something, you take it. If it proves difficult to take, you only work harder at getting it. That’s who you are, it’s who you’ve always been, my Prince.”

The Prince turned to the cat, narrowing his eyes in speculation. “Yet you are not one who cares much for helping me in obtaining my desires. What’s all this, then?”

The cat’s ears perked up at this, and it continued to swish its tail. “Perhaps I could gain something out of this as well. While we do have conflicting interests many times, I must admit that we share similar tastes in what we like to do for entertainment.”

I see.” The Prince pondered this for a moment, then he turned to the cat. “I have a request for you, then. Search out a human worthy for me to love. You need not bring them here, but find one you think shall work and return to me when you have found them.”

The Nightmare Emissary bowed its head lightly. “May I play with them a bit before I bring you back my report?”

Only if you deem it necessary in figuring out whether they shall work,” the Prince said, curling his lip slightly with a look of near-disgust at the cat. The Nightmare Emissary purred and bounded away, satisfied enough with the Prince’s request to carry it out.

The cat dove through the dreams of many different people, keeping mainly to the ones that he knew the Prince enjoyed the most: young girls and women with troubled minds. The Emissary, too, liked playing with these sorts of humans in much the same way the Prince did, though in a less psychological manner and more in the way of a beast hunting its prey.

It went through many, many girls, but at last it came upon one it thought may have been a suitable candidate. But there was a problem: the cat enjoyed the human so much that it wasn’t sure it wanted to give up playing to hand her over to the Prince. So for the time being, it decided to keep this human a secret and hide her from the Prince’s already clouded sight.

~*~

This story’s dream was far different than the first had been. I had a much more vivid picture than before, and it seemed I was living the story out through the eyes of the cat. For just a moment I got to feel what it was like to be this stoic creature, and it was empowering, yet at the same time somewhat terrifying.

I felt its instincts and its desires, especially when it came to the idea of playing with its prey. I didn’t like that feeling, at least not in hindsight after waking up. My sleep that night was good, though.

The nights were growing colder and I could no longer go outside. It was too cloudy to see the stars, anyway, and I was afraid my storyteller would not appear. Still too fearful to sleep on my own, I sat up late with a cup of tea and a book, lingering between concentrating on what I read, trying not to think about my paranoid fears, and wishing to see Dantes again.

My third thought, it seems, paid off, for as I was just starting to doze off, I forced myself awake again to find him sitting on the couch next to me. He smiled, wrapping one arm around me, and said, “Ready for tonight’s story?”

Yes,” I said, relaxing against him and resting my head on his shoulder. “I’ve been waiting.”

I know you have,” he said with a soft chuckle. “This is the story of the Prince and his Shadow.”

~*~

The other denizens of the realm of Timor had taken notice of their Prince’s odd behavior and how he did not seem himself at all. They began whispering about him, wondering what was wrong with him, some of them saying he had gone soft. The Prince heard all of these rumors about himself, and they did naught to improve his state of mind.

But he could do nothing to stop them, and he didn’t even feel it in himself to punish them for their insolence against him. He felt that perhaps he had truly been broken, all by the simple words of a human girl. It made no sense to him whatsoever.

One day, as he walked down the corridor, he heard a dark voice speaking to him, feeling a presence weighing down upon him. “Does it really bother you so much? Maybe what they’re saying about you is true. You are going soft.”

The Prince turned his head to see who was speaking to him, but he saw nothing but a large shadow hovering behind him. Squinting, he saw a pair of red eyes piercing through the darkness. A faint prickle of fear tingled in his chest, but he remained solemn.

What does it matter to you, or any others for that fact?”

Because you’re our Prince,” the shadow said, with a faint mocking tone to its voice. “A man of ruthlessness matched only by your father’s. When you start going soft, it worries people. If you don’t snap out of it soon, your father may take notice at some point and take matters into his own hands. And I know you don’t want that.”

The Prince did not take too kindly to these words, for he knew them to be true, and the one thing he feared in this world was his father’s wrath. He turned to his shadow, resolve in his voice. “So then, what do you suggest I do?”

Stop worrying so much about what some human said to you,” his shadow replied. “But if you can’t, then go and find some other human to occupy your time. Maybe you’ll get somewhere with it, or maybe you’ll realize just how foolishly you’ve been acting.”

Is that your only advice?” the Prince asked.

If you’re truly unable to do this for yourself, I can always help you find someone,” the shadow said, chuckling faintly.

While he did not like being made a mockery of by his own shadow, the Prince realized he was not in any state of mind to be looking for a human himself. He had sent the Nightmare Emissary out on that job, but the cat still had not returned or reported in and he figured that at this rate it probably never would. He did not like making a habit of trusting his shadow, for it had led him astray before, but he decided for this he would let it do its thing.

Very well. Find me a human that will set me back on my ways, that shall bring me out of this state of endless doubt and turmoil.”

I’ll see what I can do,” the shadow responded before retreating from the Prince to find such a human.

~*~

There was this cold, creeping feeling I got from the shadow, which I had become in this dream. I spoke as it spoke, I saw through its eyes. And I had the sense that, despite the boasted power and cruelty of the Prince, his shadow was far worse, and he perhaps feared it just as much as his father.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of these last two dream stories I had been shown, when I had taken on the role of these characters. Especially characters that I was not quite sure I was all that fond of. Still, I wanted to continue these dreams. I wanted to know how this grand story would end up.

Dantes returned the next night, finding me waiting for him with a cup of tea in my hands. He smiled and settled down with me. “Tonight’s story will be extra special,” he said to me.

Why is that?” I asked, tilting my head to the side and gazing up into his sparkling eyes.

You’ll see as you get into it.” He put one arm around me, wrapping me in his cloak and having me close my eyes. I let my mind drift off as I listened to his voice, slowly wrapping my arms around him in a slight hug.

This is the story of the Prince and the Nitemare.”

~*~

When neither the Nightmare Emissary nor his shadow returned to tell him what they had found, the Prince began to grow angry and impatient. Those two were making a fool of him, he thought. Perhaps he would have to do things on his own after all.

The Prince went to his observatory to see if he could seek out a human he should find worthy of his attention. He looked through all his options until he found a girl that piqued his interest. At first she looked ordinary, as many of the girls he preyed upon did, but in her mind, she was deeply troubled, just like the ones he enjoyed.

But what else caught his attention was that it appeared the Nightmare Emissary, and perhaps even his shadow, had latched onto this girl and were plaguing her with terrible nightmares even now. At this, the Prince grew angry.

I send them out to find me a human, and they decide to keep her for themselves? Insolence! I shall make them pay, and I will take her from them.”

The Prince set out to his stables, looking over the many mares that were housed there. He selected the best they had: a large black mare with a wild mane like purple flames, its eyes just as dark. He stroked the beast slowly, sweet talking her in a gentle tone to gain her favor, as the Nitemares of Timor were proud creatures.

My beauty,” the Prince said to the mare, “I wish you to carry me to the human realm to bring a dark dream to a girl I have found.”

My Prince,” the mare said, her eyes flashing as she gazed at him, “have you finally decided to become yourself once more? It’s been so long since I’ve carried you into a dream.”

I’ve found a special prey this night,” the Prince said, stroking the mare’s neck affectionately. “I only see fit to take her on a proper mount. Would you not agree?”

The mare tossed her mane, flaring her nostrils. “I have waited long to go on the hunt with you again, my Prince. I shall gladly carry you.”

The Prince led the mare out of the stable and mounted her, his hands slowly stroking through her flaming mane as he spoke sweet words into her ear. The Nitemare reared up and took off, her hooves sounding like roaring thunder as she galloped across the land before opening a portal into the human world.

The Prince found the shadow and the Nightmare Emissary plaguing the human girl, and in a blaze of glory he swept them both away with a show of his power, reminding them just who he was. Then he turned his attention to the girl, who had been plagued by two terrible nightmares. Her troubled mind was cracking, coming apart at the seams. The Prince saw his opportunity.

He bowed before the girl and took her in his arms, whispering gently to her, “You need not fear, I’ve driven those nightmares away. You’re safe now.”

~*~

At that point in the dream, my sight moved away from the vague outline of the Prince and went to the girl he had come for. And to my shock and astonishment, the girl looked exactly like me. And then my sight returned to myself and I was looking directly at the Prince, and for the first time I could see just what he looked like.

He was tall and stoic, with wild black hair cascading down his back. He wore the dark robes of a nobleman with not a speck of color in them. His skin was pale as a specter, and he had a dark mustache on his upper lip, along with a pointed beard on his chin.

And there were his eyes. They were the most terrible eyes I had ever seen in my life. If Dantes’ eyes were like shimmering galaxies full of color, then the Prince’s eyes were gaping black holes that would swallow up anything that got in their path.

But his voice sounded so sweet and gentle that, despite the intense fear I felt when I looked at him, he was able to soothe me to the point that he pulled me into his arms and lifted me up onto the back of his mare along with him. I was in a daze at that point, not entirely sure what was happening, only faintly aware of his arms around me as his mount galloped through a strange portal into another world.

It was around this point that I realized what had happened. This wasn’t just a story I was watching unfold through my dreams anymore. I had become part of the story. I was living out the story, and now I was the Prince’s prey.

He stopped his mare back at the stables and slid off her back, then he lifted me up and set me on my feet, looking me over with a strange smile on his face. It looked warm and inviting, yet with those eyes of his, there was something sinister behind it.

Come,” he said to me, “you look exhausted. I’ll bring you somewhere you can rest.”

He held my hand as he led me into the huge citadel he lived in, keeping me close to his side with his cloak draped partly around me, as if to shield me from prying eyes. As we walked up a long flight of stairs, I at last found my voice and ventured to ask, “Wh-where are we?”

My home,” he said, his voice quiet as if he were wanting to keep anyone else from hearing. “The Citadel of Timor. I’ve brought you here to keep you safe from those creatures that were tormenting you.”

Which creatures?” I asked, but my voice fell silent halfway through the last word. I had seen the dream unfold from the Prince’s side, but the thought occurred to me about the reason I hadn’t been sleeping so well before. If this was still a dream, that meant I was sleeping, taken from those haunting images that kept me from rest.

The Prince pursed his lips into a dark smile, as if he were reading my thoughts. “They won’t bother you anymore, as long as you’re with me, my dear.”

I stopped, trying to pull my hand away from him, but his grip was like a vice and he continued to pull me along, keeping me close to his side. When I saw I couldn’t fight him, I said in a quiet, shaking voice, “Just who are you, anyway?”

I am the Prince of Nightmares,” he said. “And you are going to be my princess.”

At that point I shut up and didn’t say anything more. I had suspected he had something to do with nightmares the whole time, but that last thing. Princess? Did he intend to marry me? But why? Of all the people he could pick, why me?

He opened a door and led me into a large bedroom. The bed was made up with black silks, the curtains of black velvet. The entirety of the room was far too dark for my tastes, though I had to admit the bed did look comfy. Once we were in the room, he let me step away from him.

This is my room,” he said with a smile. “You can use it for now while I attend to some business. Get some rest. I’ll return for you soon.”

But,” I started, voice stiff with hesitation, “aren’t I already sleeping?”

The Prince’s smile twisted into a toothy grin, and I saw that his teeth were pointed like fangs. “That’s the question, isn’t it, my dear? You begged for something to help you sleep, after all. I assure you, nothing will haunt your mind while you’re here. You’re quite safe under my protection.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to be under his protection, though. I sat on the edge of the bed and he swept me a gentlemanly bow before leaving the room and closing the door behind him. I waited a few moments before going to the door, but as I had suspected, it was locked.

What was this? How and why was this happening to me? Was this truly part of the story that Dantes was telling to me? Or… or had Dantes betrayed me? Was Dantes actually the Prince? With all these questions spinning in my head, I went and laid down on the bed, curling up and breathing deeper.

It really was quite comfortable, and I soon found my mind giving up the hopeless thoughts of being captured in this place. My eyes fell shut and I let myself be taken back into sleep’s embrace, even though I apparently was already sleeping. A single thought slipped through my mind just before falling unconscious, and I wondered if it would be possible to wake up from this deeper sleep, or if my wish to sleep had come true in a staggeringly unexpected way.

A voice whispered in my ear, sounding far away. “This is the story of the Prince and his Father.”

~*~

The Prince had captured his prey at last, and he had made up his mind as to what he should do with her. She wasn’t going to be like the other girls he had played with so much, only to toss aside when he had thoroughly broken them. This one, he decided, he was going to take good care of. He would keep her all for himself.

So he went to his father and bowed before him, keeping his head down in a manner of respect. “Father, I bid you give me your blessing,” he said. “For I wish to take a human girl as my bride.”

The King of Nightmares gazed upon his son, a deafening silence proceeding the Prince’s request. He lifted his head slightly and asked, “A human girl? Whatever would you want one of those for as a bride? Is she special? Can she weave magic, or command terrible beasts to do her bidding? Does she have a strong resolve and willpower about her?”

The Prince faltered for a moment, biting his lips before saying, “I… I don’t know. I don’t believe she can do magic, but I know not about her strength of soul.”

The King snorted and stood from his throne, moving to stand before his son and laying a hand upon his shoulder. “I’ve been watching you closely for a while now, my son. Don’t think you can hide anything from me. You shouldn’t run brashly into something like this just because you think it will set your mind at ease. It won’t.”

The Prince stiffened at his father’s touch, still keeping his eyes from meeting the King’s. “Are you saying this from experience, Father?” he asked. “Is that why you did not marry my mother?”

Your mother was one of a kind,” the King responded, gripping his son’s shoulder a little tighter. “She didn’t want to stay with me. If she had, I would have let her. But this girl you’ve brought here?” He snorted again, and his sharp fingertips began to dig into his son’s flesh. “She’s a simple human. What use is she to you but as a toy to be broken, just like all the others?”

The Prince pulled out of his father’s grip, rubbing at his shoulder with a grimace on his face. “So, you will not give me your blessing?”

It’s your decision to make,” the King responded as he moved back to his throne. “I will not keep you from marrying her, if that is truly what you wish to do, but neither will I approve of it, until you prove to me that there is some value in you taking her as your bride.”

Very well,” the Prince said. He bowed before his father before taking his leave. Perhaps he was rushing into this, he thought, but he would find a reason for keeping her, and then he would truly make her his own.

~*~

I opened my eyes to see the Prince’s dark gaze lying upon me. I gasped and sat up, moving away from him so quickly I made myself dizzy. His lips curled into a smile and he leaned back away from me. “Sleep well?”

I frowned at him, searching for something to say. “What… what is it that you want from me? Do you actually intend to marry me?”

Ah, so you are still seeing that fluff in your dreams, are you? I suppose I should have expected as much.”

What are you talking about?” I sat up a little straighter in the bed, narrowing my eyes at him. He chuckled and shook his head.

Those dreams you’ve been having about me? They’re nothing more than fairy tales. Fiction. You honestly believe I’m really like that? That I could be swayed by the simple words of some girl? Hardly. I’m the Prince of Nightmares, not some misguided child who can be changed so easily. You’re a fool to believe that.”

So, none of what I saw was real?” I asked, breathing a little deeper. “Then what do you want from me?”

The Prince’s lips curled up into a terrible grin, giving me a look at his awful fangs. “Well, now, there was one thing in those stories that was correct. I do quite enjoy going after girls with troubled minds to play with. And I should think that your mind is quite troubled. You even got Dantes to come to your world and tell you stories to help you sleep. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

What does Dantes have to do with this?” I asked. “Is he working for you? Did you plan all of this?”

Not at all. Dantes would never be on my side. I merely saw an opportunity that he inadvertently provided for me and took it. He should have known better than to make such a window for me by giving you dreams about me, no matter how uncharacteristic they were.”

I took a moment to think about this, only partially understanding what he was telling me. “What are you going to do with me?” I finally asked.

Mmmh, that’s the question, isn’t it?” A long black tongue slithered out of his mouth to lick his pale lips. I shuddered at the sight, realizing just how inhuman he was, even though he looked human. He walked around to the other side of the bed where I was sitting and leaned close to me, making me shrink back further. “I can do whatever I want to you, my princess.”

I scrambled backward to the other side of the bed, nearly falling off when I hit the edge, but instead I put my feet down to the floor, never taking my eyes off him despite how much I hated gazing into his black eyes. I stepped away from the bed and he matched my movements, standing in my path but not moving any closer to me.

You wanted to sleep,” he said, his voice in that quiet, gentle tone of sweetness that made me feel almost lethargic just listening to it. “You begged for something to help you sleep, and now you are. You’re my sleeping beauty, and so long as you don’t wake up, I can keep you in my realm forever.”

Why?” I asked, struggling to stay alert. “Why do you want me of all people? Aren’t you just going to throw me aside like you did with all the others once you’ve had your fun with me?”

Oh, you may think I don’t know anything about you, but the truth is I’ve had my eye on you for a long time.” He stepped toward me and reached his hand out to me, laying it on my cheek. His fingernails were black and pointed like sharp claws and his flesh was chilled, giving me a shiver. “I find it such a shame that you’ve been unable to sleep. You had some traumatic experience that’s been giving you those awful visions, didn’t you?”

I turned my face away from him, breathing shakily. “What’s that matter to you?”

I can make all those bad memories go away,” he murmured, leaning in even closer until I thought he might be trying to kiss me. “If you stay with me, you’ll never have to worry about them coming back to you again.”

Are you asking me to stay?” I said, wondering if it was possible that he might let me go.

I’m saying that if you choose to stay here, your time with me will be far more enjoyable. But we can do things the hard way if you prefer.”

I glanced around the room, trying to think of something – anything to say – to stall for time. I pursed my lips together and took in a deep breath, then said, “My… my Prince, let me make a request.”

He blinked and tipped his head to the side. “Oh, what is that?”

You see girls like me as your prey, do you not?” I said to him, realizing how crazy my idea was as I was saying it, but unable to stop myself at this point. “Then let me be your proper prey. Chase me down. Let me go so I can run and you can hunt me. If you capture me like that, then I’ll… I’ll stay with you willingly.”

He raised an eyebrow, seeming surprised by what I had just said, as was I, and then his smile grew wider than ever before. “Well, if you insist. I can’t very well say no to a request like that. It sounds fun.”

He stepped away from me and went to the door, opening it for me. It didn’t open into the hallway we had come through, though. Instead, it opened into a great dark forest. I took a cautious step out and looked back at him. He gave me a pat on the shoulder before shoving me slightly.

Go on then, run. I’ll give you a head start.”

I stared at him for a long moment then turned away and started jogging off into the darkness before breaking out into a full run. The air in the forest was chilled, and everywhere I looked there were thick trees and utter blackness. This was a terrible idea and I had no idea why I asked him to do this. I was grasping at some sort of false hope that if I just bought more time, I could escape him. At this point, I realized just how futile that was.

I heard a howl somewhere in the distance behind me and was tempted to look back, but I knew I had to keep going. He was just trying to scare me, that’s all. But then I heard footsteps behind me, heavy and fast, and I forced myself into a sprint. I could feel a presence behind me, but I didn’t dare turn to see who or what was chasing me. It didn’t feel like it was the Prince. It felt as if it were some terrible monster that would surely send me into a state of panic at the sight of it, like the visions I’d been having that kept me from sleeping.

But maybe that was the key, I thought. If it were as terrifying as that, maybe it would shock me awake. Then again, if I didn’t wake up after looking at it, then it’d be even worse than my visions, because I’d be here with it and nothing would make it go away. But I had to try something. Anything.

Just when my strength was giving out, I found myself cornered against a high wall of stone. I pressed my hands against it, taking a moment just to breathe, then I heard a terrible growl behind me. Sucking in a cold gulp of air, I turned my head to see what terrible thing had been chasing me.

But I saw nothing. Nothing but a large shadow stretching out toward me, and then I saw a pair of blood red eyes opening up to gaze at me. They were even more horrifying than the Prince’s, almost to the level of the visions I’d been having.

As the huge shadow descended upon me, the Prince came walking toward me. Black tentacles grew from his back, swaying around his body and stretching out toward me. He wore a terribly triumphant smile on his face and looked even more inhuman than ever before.

I’ve found you, my prey,” he purred, his black tongue licking over his lips. “And now you’re all mine.”

Fear stabbed through my heart as his tentacles surged forward to grab me, but then there was a burst of blinding light. I cringed back, pressing my hands over my eyes and shutting them tightly. When the light cleared and I ventured to look up, I saw a man standing in front of me and facing the Prince. There were bright glowing lights in his palms, like miniature stars. After a moment of squinting at him, I realized it was Dantes.

That’s quite enough,” he said, his voice hard and threatening. “This girl is under my protection; I won’t let you harm her.”

The Prince snorted, looking only mildly set back by Dantes’ sudden appearance. “You were the one who brought her to me, Dantes,” the Prince sneered. “You can’t just snatch her away from me, now.”

The Prince’s shadow reared up, taking the form of some huge beast and lashing out with sharp claws. Dantes sent a blast of his bright light at the shadow, and it roared in pain. I shrank further back against the wall as I watched the display, hardly believing my eyes.

The shadow soon retreated, disappearing into the darkness of the forest, and now Dantes was running at the Prince head on. The Prince’s black tentacles swatted at Dantes like dangerous whips, but they seemed to be blocked by some sort of shield around Dantes’ body. Dantes threw a large blast of the light out at the Prince, making him stumble back and snarl in anger.

After only a few short minutes of this, the Prince shouted for a halt. “Fine! You can take her back, Dantes. I’ll leave, for the time being.”

See that you do,” Dantes said. The Prince disappeared into the forest and Dantes let out a breath, then he turned to me. I gazed up at him, not knowing what to say or do. Then he smiled and held his hand out to me. “You needn’t worry. He’s gone.”

I stood slowly and took a step toward him, shakily reaching out to take his hand. He pulled me closer and put his cloak around me, then gazed at me with his swirling galaxy eyes. Then I frowned at him.

What was all of this, exactly?” I said.

What? I was telling you a series of stories. Seeing as they were about the Prince, he saw what I was doing and decided to take you.”

Did you know that was going to happen?”

The corner of his mouth twitched a little and he got a cocky smile on his face. “I was aware of the possibility, yes.”

And you just let it happen?” I scowled at him, knowing I should be grateful that he saved me, but still feeling angry about the entire situation.

Then Dantes laughed and patted me on the shoulder. “You did say you wanted a story to help you sleep. And I came and saved you before you were harmed. I don’t think you have much to complain about.”

I sighed and shook my head, finding no more words to argue with him. “Fine. Can you take me home, now?”

That’s just what I was planning to do,” he said with a smile before lifting me up. He carried me out of the forest and through a door, and another blinding white light shone in my eyes, forcing me to close them.

And then I was lying in my bed, the warm blankets being tucked carefully around me. I heard Dantes speaking to me in a gentle voice. “The man from the stars took her from the Prince and brought her home safely. He promised that he would watch over her every night as she slept. No monsters or nightmares would touch her, and all terrible visions would be banished for good.”

I blinked sleepily, my vision hazy, but I caught a glance of his shining purple eyes in the darkness of my room. For once, after a long time, I felt safe. I felt I could sleep without having to worry about anything. I let my head sink deep into my pillows as my eyes drifted shut.

He gave me a kiss on the forehead before whispering, “She lived happily ever after. The end.”

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